The hardest part of adopting a new profession is getting started
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Martin Bellington was a hitman. He'd never admit to actually killing anybody, you understand, but he was still a hitman. That was his profession. If waitresses could call themselves actresses after a single failed audition for a non-speaking role in a commercial, and bookstore clerks assume the title poet after a performance or two during free-mike night at the local coffeehouse, then Marty Bellington could assume the title hitman even though he hadn’t killed anybody. Yet.
Marty needed a profession because he really didn't have anything else to do. A great uncle had imprudently left a trust fund whose income supported Marty in an adequate if not luxurious style while prudently denying him access to the principal.
Things could have remained that way forever, with Marty satisfied to live modestly if idly and do no more than hint at his ignoble vocation to anyone who would listen, especially those of the female persuasion who for amusement or from desperation or some mental aberration actually appeared interested in him. And things probably would have remained thus except for his misfortune in sitting in Kelly's bar on his customary end stool (the one that put his back to the wall, don't you know) on the very night Shelia Morris caught Slick Ernie Garcia screwing that trashy tramp Marsha Chin.
Shelia decided to drown her troubles in the traditional manner and parked her admirable backside on the only empty stool at the bar: the one next to Marty. She didn't pause to wonder why that single stool should be empty when all others were occupied and customers stood two and three deep at the other end of the bar. Regular customers. Marty knew the regulars were a little frightened of him because of his occupation, which was why they always kept their distance. To be fair, Shelia's obliviousness should be excused since her abundant backside and even more abundant frontside generally assured her a seat at any bar she happened to approach, regardless how crowded.
She had barely time to adjust her aforementioned remarkable bosom comfortably on the bar before Marty offered her a drink. She accepted without even looking at him, never having anticipated buying her own drink in any event. The last time she'd done so was three years past when she'd ducked into a tavern to get out of a freezing rain, unaware it was ladies' night at that establishment. She soon realized it was always ladies' night there, carefully declined three enthusiastic offers, paid for her own Irish coffee, gulped it down, dodged two of her more persistent suitors, and headed back into the rain.
This time, however, she accepted Marty's offer and was nearly through her double Chivas (not her first of the evening) when she finally decoded the subtle innuendos being whispered from the side of her benefactor's mouth. Whatever attributes Shelia possesses – and a host of gentlemen and many less gentle would vouch they are indeed legion – forbearance is not among them.
That particular night, due to circumstances referred to above, Shelia was even less disposed than usual to be charitable. She turned and stared at the slight, balding, potbellied, bespectacled individual sitting next to her, and immediately broke out into raucous laughter. When she regained sufficient control to speak, she exclaimed, "You a hit man? That's ridiculous! If your life depended on it, you couldn't kill anything except time – and you're not even very good at that!" Whereupon she slid her prime assets off the stool and marched them down to the crowded end of the bar, where another stool miraculously opened for her.
Shelia's comment really stung, the more so because it was true. But it wasn't Marty's fault: the primary reason he had never killed anyone was that he'd never had a client. (That's what professionals call the people who hire them: clients, not customers.) He decided to remedy that deficiency immediately. He left dealing with his second major obstacle until the first was solved.
Six months later, Marty still had no clients, although certainly not from lack of effort: he'd done everything he could think of. He'd written letters to several alleged members of organized crime families after reading about them in the newspaper or seeing stories on TV. The letters didn't say right out that Marty was a hitman; they were worded very carefully, subtly offering unspecified discreet services. Two of the letters were answered, by phone calls from gruff voices each promising an imaginatively horrible demise if certain people ever heard from Marty again. The voices were not at all subtle.
Marty was very proud of his subtlety, as in his ad in magazines such as Soldier of Fortune where he stated his willingness to travel anywhere and to "work in the rain" instead of "wetwork no problem" like the ad he'd otherwise copied. He figured clients worthy of his services would recognize his cryptic allusion.
Soon after the magazines came out (Marty bought twenty copies of each himself, severely straining his budget), a man with an accent called. Marty thought the interview went well, and when asked about handling a little matter in Angola, replied enthusiastically that he'd gladly go there or anywhere else in South America. When he inquired if his caller knew how to obtain a passport, the interviewer had a sudden coughing fit and had to hang up. Weeks later, a disappointed Marty deduced that the caller had been a fake because he’d never called back.
The only other response came from a lumber company that wanted Marty to move to a potential forest outside Seattle and, for minimum wage, keep deer away from acres of newly-planted trees – for most of the year quite literally working in the rain. Marty never figured out why they sought a baby-tree-sitter in that magazine.
Finally Marty decided that, if the clients weren't going to come to him, he'd go directly to the clients. That decision resulted in the most embarrassing incident in his embarrassment-riddled life.
While waiting for his battered body to regain function, half-buried in remnants of linguine with a superb white clam sauce in the dumpster wherein he had been deposited by two very large, very nasty companions of the mafia capo he had accosted in a local restaurant, Marty had an epiphany: he would create his own clients! And, he assured himself, they would certainly be of a much higher social caliber than the ruffians he had just encountered.
Marty spent the next day at the local library. Fortunately, the librarian left him alone, possibly from an aversion to the smell of clams. Once he mastered the use of the microfilm reader (quite a complex piece of equipment) he perused past editions of the local newspaper, concentrating on the society pages and especially the gossip columns, compiling notes on prominent local couples rumored to have stressful marriages.
Further research, punctuated by 'coffee' breaks at Kelly's, eventually led Marty to select Mr. Nigel Handford Clements and Ms. Leonora Smithson-Clements as the couple to provide his first client. They had all the necessary attributes: a long history of semi-public affairs, fights, and separations; and both possessed legendary tempers. They were also each independently wealthy and easily accessible.
Finances were tight for Marty over the next couple of months: reinstatement fees at the country club to which he had been left a legacy membership were steep. But that was a small price to pay – an investment as it were. He changed his watering hole from Kelly's to the less amiable although more expensive bar at the country club and alternated appearances there with regular attendance at meetings of the local AA. The irony escaped him.
While awaiting an occasion to make contact with his potential client, Marty worked on his other problem: the method of dispatching his victim. The traditional gun and blade were out – Marty could not stand the sight of blood; it made him nauseous. In fact, in two instances he had actually fainted after witnessing minor accidents, which he suspected might be a real hindrance for a hitman.
A garrote was also unacceptable as was suffocation: either would require close contact with the victim during the killing process, which Marty considered would be most distasteful.
Other possibilities were also examined and eliminated: auto accident and defenestration (car crashes and falls from windows both brought too much chance of seeing blood); poison (obtaining such might leave a trail for authorities); electrocution (no idea how to arrange that without electrocuting himself); drowning (either requiring close contact if done in a bathtub, or some means of getting the victim in a vehicle or out on a boat and then into water, which seemed far too complicated). This murder business was proving harder than Marty had imagined.
Then he hit on it (excuse the pun). Gas. Poison gas. As in carbon monoxide. No blood; no close contact; no traceable trail of obtained material. Marty’s eleven-year-old Chevy was an ample source, as the smoke trail that followed the car showed. An additional advantage was that accidental death or suicide could be simulated.
Meanwhile he kept up his research and obtained a few necessities for his profession, notably a gun. Not a real gun, of course. In addition to his aversion to blood, Marty was... well, not exactly afraid of guns; he just didn't like them. He knew they were readily available 'on the street' but, since he had no idea where that particular street was, he settled for a toy pistol which looked frighteningly realistic once he pried off the orange cap. Since he had never fired a real gun in the past and had no intention of doing so (remember, he was determined to be a subtle killer), a toy was no obstacle. However, it was essential that any hitman have at least the appearances of all the appropriate appurtenances of his profession.
In what he considered his most brilliant stroke, Marty visited the county recorder's office and, for a surprisingly small fee, obtained copies of two legal documents signed by both of his prospective clients – one even had some information filled in by hand! He was now ready to begin.
Phase I – Creating His First Client
Marty prepared his props and smuggled them and his gun into his locker at the club. Now all he had to do was await the right opportunity. Fortunately, Marty was a patient man – at least when he had a comfortable bar stool upon which to wait and suitable libations as companions.
Two days later, Marty returned to the bar after his AA meeting. He was just halfway through his first vodka martini – shaken, not stirred – when Ms. Leonora Smithson-Clements walked in accompanied by her most recent escort: an elegantly dressed young man who bore no resemblance whatsoever to Mr. Clements. The two were shown to her favorite corner table in the back of the lounge.
Marty left his drink on the bar and walked quickly to the nearby restrooms, then past them to the locker room to retrieve his props. Anyone paying attention to him might have been curious about the sheen of sweat despite the air conditioning and why he reappeared at the bar carrying a shiny new black briefcase. However, nobody ever paid any attention to Marty.
He drank sparingly, more due to the extravagant price than to prudence. His seat afforded a clear view of Ms. Smithson-Clements' table in the bar mirror: he had chosen the stool for that very reason, even foregoing his usual preference for having his back to the wall. He tried not to stare at his target, with little success. Again, nobody noticed.
Finally, after a number of drinks (three for Ms. Smithson-Clements and friend, two for Marty) the lady initiated the ritual that always foretold her imminent departure for the ladies' room. Marty gulped the dregs of his drink, headed for the restrooms, returned to get his briefcase, and tried again. He pushed open the men's room door, quickly checked that it was unoccupied, then exited, hanging his "OUT OF ORDER/PLEASE USE OTHER RESTROOM" sign on the outside handle. He had been considerate enough to include an arrow pointing to said alternate facilities. Marty then backed as far as he could into the alcove across the hall and assumed his disguise.
The wait seemed interminable. Marty began to think his quarry might have changed her mind or even left the club – prospects which relieved as much as disappointed him. Then he heard the click, click of high heels approaching and almost before he knew it the lady was walking past him toward the ladies' room.
Marty reacted without thinking, executing the plan he had rehearsed in his mind so often it was almost instinctive. He stepped out, grabbed the startled woman in a bearhug, pushed her through the men's room door, closed the door behind him, and kicked the doorstop into place. Ms. Smithson-Clements, still more startled than scared, made only a faint, "What...?" sound as Marty shoved her into the first stall and down onto the seat. Her next reaction seemed more concerned with the fate of her dress than herself – toilet seats in even quasi-public restrooms, especially men's rooms, being notoriously unclean. Then she noticed the gun.
"What... What do you want?" she demanded with more outrage than fear, then drew breath to scream.
Marty pushed the muzzle of the gun forcefully into her stomach, saying, "Make a sound and you're dead!" in his gruffest squeak.
Apparently the gruffness was adequate. The lady's face paled and she repeated, "What do you want?" closer to a whimper. Then she seemed to answer her question for herself, and recovered a bit of composure, adding, "If you intend to rape me, you could have chosen a more appropriate location. A men's room? Really!"
"Oh, No!" Marty replied, horrified, "I'm not going to rape you. I'd never do anything like that."
"Well, then, what are you going to do? You could have robbed me, if that is your intention, without forcing me into this filthy toilet," she retorted with her composure completely restored. She'd always handled men well.
"I'm afraid I'm going to kill you," Marty said, "I have to kill you."
"Kill me? Don't be ridiculous! Why would you want to do that – you don't even know me."
"I don't want to but I have to. I already took the money. It's just... I never killed a woman before," which was true."
"Money? You mean somebody paid you to kill me?" she asked incredulously.
"Well, yes, of course. You don't think I do this for free, do you? I'm not a nut; it's my profession; I'm a hitman – it's what I do."
"Who?" she demanded, "Who paid you? Who wants me dead?"
"Oh, I never reveal a client's name. That's privileged information."
"Oh, come on! If I'm dead I can't tell anybody. It must be Handy, Right? Is it Handy?"
"Who?" Marty was surprised for real now.
"Handy – my husband, Nigel Clements. I bet it was; it had to be him! That son of a bitch! After all I've done for him! Come on, it was him, wasn't it?"
"Well, I really shouldn't..."
"I knew it! It had to be him! And just like that cowardly bastard: doesn't even have the balls to do it himself! Well, is he in for a surprise!" and she began laughing hysterically.
‘What the hell?’ Marty thought, “Hey, why are you laughing? You want to die or something?”
With difficulty, Leonora managed to control herself. “No, of course I don’t want to die. But, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing how disappointed Handy’s gonna be.”
“Because he expects to get my life insurance! Stupid bastard doesn’t know I changed the beneficiary to my trust fund ages ago.” She paused, then said, “Hope you got paid up front, cause he’s broke.”
“Sure, but he’ll get the trust fund, won’t he?”
“Nope. He doesn’t even know about that one. My father split the fund into two when I got married; the one Handy knows about was drained to try and save his damn company; the other one all goes to charity! Greedy prick won’t get a dime. So, unless you already got paid in full, you’ll be killing me for nothing. That doesn’t make any sense,” a note of hope crept into her voice.”
"I always get mine up front. Look, I'm sorry. I don't like this any more than you do. I told you, I never killed a woman. But I've already been paid," Marty whined.
"I assure you, being killed will certainly distress me more that it will you!” the lady retorted, then, “How much did the bastard pay you; how much does he want me dead? Whatever it was, I'll beat it – double it! I'll pay you twice as much, plus you can keep what he paid you so you'll end up with three times your fee and no risk of getting caught."
"Well... No! Sorry, but I can't. See, it's my reputation. If anyone finds out I took the money and didn't complete the contract, I'm out of business."
"OK, so make sure nobody finds out."
"But he'll tell. He knows people – how do you think he found me? He'll tell them and they'll tell others and then I'm out of work. Hitmen don't get unemployment, you know."
"So just make sure he can't tell anyone," she said, “That’s what you do, isn’t it?”.
"What... Oh. Yeah, well, maybe that would work. But I couldn't do it for free: I only kill when I'm getting paid."
"I already said I'd give you double what he gave you – how much was that, anyway?"
"Ten thousand. But what you said you'd give me, that was for not killing you, not for killing him. You'd have to pay me for that, too."
"Only ten grand? That cheap bastard! OK, so I'll give you another ten – thirty grand in all. Man, with the ten you already got, you're making out like a bandit!... Not that I'm complaining."
"It's cash up front, I’m afraid. Once it's done, you'll never see me again."
"OK, but you'll have to wait a couple of days," then, seeing his look, "Hey, I don't keep thirty grand in my bra, for Christ's sake. It takes a while to get that much together without anybody noticing. And I have to make sure nobody will find out afterwards, either: it would look too suspicious if I took out that much in cash just before he gets killed!"
"Well, I can't wait long. Too much chance he'll say something to somebody. I was supposed to complete the contract last week, and he's already getting anxious."
"OK, look," she pulled off the ring on her right hand, "Here, take this. It's worth twice that much, but I don't want anything from that bastard! He bought it for our first anniversary. The center stone is a flawless-D diamond, right at two carats. That's worth more than thirty grand itself."
"I usually take only cash, but... All right," he took the ring, examining it closely, "but it better be worth what you said. Hey, won't somebody notice it's missing? Won't they ask you about it?"
"Oh, it's worth it. And I have a copy, looks just like this one." Seeing his puzzled look, she continued, "Handy had copies made of all my good jewelry: low karat gold, cubic zirconiums instead of diamonds, phony gems. He always wanted me to wear them so in case they got lost or stolen, we wouldn't lose the real one. He never said so, but I bet he would have reported the real ones stolen to the insurance and collected on them. But I can't stand wearing fakes, so I swapped them for all the good pieces one day when he had the safe open: I've been wearing the real ones for years and he’s never known!"
"All right, we've got a deal," Marty said.
"Ho... how will you do it?"
"That's my business.”
“Of course; just don’t do anything... bloody in our home. Don’t make a mess there.”
“No worry. I’ll use gas – carbon monoxide. No muss, no fuss. And no blood. Make it look like an accident or suicide, so no investigation, either. Let me know where you're going to be for the next few days so you'll have a good alibi when it goes down, just in case."
"Wait a second," she fumbled in her purse a moment, then withdrew a small black notebook and handed it to him, "Here. This has my schedule for the rest of the month. And don't worry: I'm always losing it. I'll have my secretary make another copy tomorrow. Just make sure nobody finds this when you're... finished.”
“Don’t worry: I’ll burn it afterward. Now how about Handy’s schedule? Tell me whatever you can about his next few days, and his habits.”
The lady complied, than asked, “You will let me know when it's done?"
"No. Believe me, you'll know. But you and I, we'll never see each other again. And, if by accident we should, we don't know each other." Marty peeked out the men's room door, then, with a final admonition to, “stick to your schedule,” motioned for her to slip out. After she left he felt vaguely disappointed: everything had gone so smoothly he hadn’t even needed any of the carefully prepared documents.
Phase II – Expanding the Client Base
The following night Marty again attended the AA meeting. He'd fortified himself with a couple of drinks first – straight vodka to avoid any telltale odor – and barely managed to stay awake during the confessions of some especially dull ex-drunks. When the meeting broke up he walked out just in front of an older man he'd talked to on a couple of prior occasions after discovering they had something in common.
Once outside, Marty turned and noticed the other man. "Hey, Nigel C," he said, "How are you?"
"Fine, Arty B," the older man replied, using the name Marty had assumed, "Especially since I only have three more of these dreary meetings to attend. How about yourself?"
"Oh, I've got another half dozen until I complete what the court ordered. Say," Marty looked around, then lowered his voice, "an old friend has a bottle of twenty-five year old single malt for me. I'm going to his place to drink it 'cause I can't be seen drinking – violates my probation. Want to help?"
The older man also looked around before replying, "Hell, yes! I haven't had anything in two days! Can't even drink at home; don't trust my damn wife not to report me! What a country: man can't even drink in the privacy of his own house! Where does your friend live? I've got my car – always drive here myself even though I haven't gotten my license back yet; can't have the help see me going into these damned meetings."
"It's just a couple of blocks. I'll direct you."
After they drove a few blocks, Marty said to turn into a narrow alley between two dark buildings. Nigel did so, remarking, "Where the hell does this friend of yours live? This is all commercial and looks abandoned! Hard to believe anybody lives anywhere around here." The alley dead-ended and Nigel stopped the car, exclaiming, "What the...?"
Marty reached over and turned off and removed the key with one hand while he took out his gun with the other. "Sorry about this, Nigel, I really am."
"What the hell...?" the older man demanded, "Is this a robbery or what?"
"Or what, I guess," Marty replied, "I have to kill you."
"Kill me?! Are you insane? Why would you do a thing like that? If you want the car, take it! You can have my money, too, and my watch and ring," he started to reach into his sport coat pocket."
Marty jammed the gun into his ribs, saying, "Whoa, there! Keep those hands where I can see them. I don't want your stuff. I really don't want to kill you either, but I have to. I've already been paid."
"Paid?! Who paying you? Who wants me dead? Oh – it’s that damned loan shark, isn't it? Stupid bastard! I told him I'd have the money soon!"
"Loan shark?" Marty was truly puzzled now.
"My company was... had a temporary cash flow problem; the bank wouldn't give me any more so I got it from a loan shark. I told him it would be a few months until I could repay it, but just a couple of weeks ago he started calling every damn day. But if you don't know about that, it couldn't be him!”
Marty improvised, “I just get the target info; they don’t give me all the details about the reasons. Nobody said anything about any loans”
“Then who? I don't... Lenny! It has to be Leonora, my wife! My damn wife hired a hitman!" Unaccountably, he burst out laughing, sputtering, "That conniving bitch!"
Marty stared open-mouthed at the older man, wondering, ‘What’s with rich people – do they all think getting killed is a joke?’ Finally he asked, "What's so funny? You think getting killed is a blast?"
"No, you don't understand," the other replied between laughs, "Oh, man, I hope you got paid in advance, 'cause you sure won't get paid afterwards! Oh, oh, and you're going to have one pissed off guy after your ass! Man, this is too good for words!" as he continued laughing.
"Well, let me in on the joke."
"See, she hired you to kill me – and I hired another guy to kill her! I need her life insurance to pay off the loan. So, if you're supposed to get more money after you do the dirty deed, you won't 'cause she'll be dead, too! And when my guy finds out he can't collect his fifty grand, he'll be so pissed!"
"Fifty grand!" Marty exclaimed, "You're giving him fifty thousand bucks?"
"Sixty, counting the ten up front. Why, how much are you getting?"
"Ah, forty," Marty replied, adding in the mythical ten thousand he claimed to have received for killing Leonora – after all, he had his pride."But I got all mine in advance."
"Yeah, I could have gotten it for less, too, but I told my guy he'd have to wait for the rest until I collect on her insurance. I guess that's the going rate, forty grand right away or sixty if you have to wait – right? What, you guys got a union or something, sets the pay scale for all the hitmen in the state?"
"No, nothing like that. We're just professionals; we know what our service is worth."
"So, why does my loving wife want me dead? Can't be the insurance: I had to make the bank beneficiary on mine so she won't get squat. She's got to know the business is hanging on by a thread and besides that we're just about dead broke. I even tried to sell her jewelry but she beat me to it: everything in the safe is a damn fake! So what is it, huh?" Nigel asked.
"Ah, no, it's not about money," Marty improvised rapidly, "See, she found out you put a contract on her – guess your guy isn't too discreet – and figured to get you first. She... um... she even knows you haven't paid the full price; figured if you were dead the guy wouldn't come for her knowing he'd never collect. That's why she put a rush on it."
"A rush? But you've been going to those AA meetings for over a month! You've been setting me up the whole damn time!"
"No, the court made me go, same as you. But when she contacted the go-between and gave him your schedule, he realized I was going to the same meetings – just a coincidence – that's why he picked me for the contract. When we first started talking I didn't know anything about the job. Even when the go-between set up the meet with the client, I didn't know who the target was until she told me. I didn't want the job then – I mean, I really like you, Nigel – but she'd already seen me. It ain't personal; I feel real bad about this, but you know business is business," Marty shrugged sadly.
"Well, if it's just business, maybe we could do some business."
"How are you going to do any business? You already said you're broke. I like you, man, but not that much!"
"But I'm only broke as long as she's alive," Nigel responded.
"Oh, I see what you're getting at. I thought you said the insurance went to bank – how's that going to help me?"
"Only the insurance on me. Her estate is beneficiary on her policy and that's me."
"Don't you need that for the loan?" Marty asked.
"It's for... it's a big policy. She took it out years ago, before we met. She was rich, of course, and insured herself accordingly: it's like a status symbol. There's enough for the loan shark and the fifty my guy was supposed to get; if you do the job, you get that."
"It's sixty if I don't get it all up front."
"Come on, you already got forty! With the fifty that makes ninety for one hit," Nigel exclaimed.
"Yeah, but what about my reputation? Word gets out I welshed on a contract – or even worse, took out the client instead – and I'm out of business. A hitman without his rep starves."
"So, who's going to tell? I won't, you won't, and Lenny sure as hell won't, not if you do the job."
“Yeah, see what you mean. All right; you’ve got a deal,” Marty said, thinking, ‘Another hitman? Man, I’m going to have to rethink the next part!’ “Now tell me about your hitman and this loan shark: everything you know about them.”
Nigel was reluctant to disclose the information, but a gun – even a toy gun – can be most persuasive. “I got the loan from Bob Harrison, the manager of the Friendly Hand payday loan place over on Maple – Lenny told me she heard he does some high-end loans on the side and he's discreet. But I can’t tell you anything about the hitman: never met him. I subtly hinted to a few shady people I’d met over the years that I had a problem. Nobody said they knew anybody but a while later I get a package in the mail: a cheap cellphone and a note with just a phone number.
“I call the number and this artificial-sounding voice answers. We make the deal and he – or she, for all I know – tells me to put all the details, Lenny’s photo and schedule and all, in an envelope with the down payment and room for the phone, and then wait for a call. The call comes and has me walking all over town until finally I’m told to put the phone in the envelope and drop it in a trash can, then walk away and don’t look back. I do. I’m supposed to get another package in a few weeks and go through the same procedure to make the final payment. That’s all I can tell you.”
Realizing he had all the information he was going to get, Marty returned Nigel’s keys, saying, “Please take me back to my car: it’s on the next block from the meeting so nobody there sees me driving.”
Phase III – Investigating The Complication
A couple of days later Marty walked into the Friendly Hand payday loan business and told the cashier he had an appointment with the manager. Robert Harrison, said manager, greeted Marty and invited him back to the manager’s office. Marty declined, saying that their business was so sensitive he couldn’t risk having it overheard or recorded, and instead suggested they retire to a booth at the coffee shop down the street. Too intrigued to protest, Robert agreed.
Seated across from each other in the back booth, with Marty’s back to the wall (naturally), he ordered coffee for them both and waited for the waitress to serve them and depart. Scanning the room and finding it devoid of interested third parties, our hitman began in a near-whisper, “Sorry for the precautions. I came across some information that might be important to you, but it could be dangerous for both of us if it got out that I told you. Through my contacts, I’ve learned there is a contract out on Clements. Since you have a business relationship, I figured it would be to your benefit to know about this. I’m not looking for anything now, but in the future please remember I’ve done you a favor. Unless you put out the contract, that is.”
Robert wasn’t amused any more. Pale faced, he demanded, “A contract? What did she do? Who could be that pissed at her?”
‘Her? Pissed at her? What the hell is going on?’ Marty looked around again, stalling, trying to figure out what to say to avoid disclosing his ignorance. “I understand you have business with her husband, too?” was all he could come up with.
“Yeah, sure; but he’s only a customer. I mean. it’s a big loan but it’s only a loan.”
‘Only a customer? Then she must be...’ "Does her husband know she’s your partner?” Marty asked, crossing his fingers.
“Partner, hell! She owns the place, all three offices. I get a nice piece of the profits, but she owns the whole damn thing. Or her trust does. And nobody knows – at least till now. That’s part of the deal. And for sure hubby don’t. With our license we can’t make loans more than twenty-six hundred. The loan to him was separate, came direct from the trust, but the paper trail’s too mixed up to show that. Hell, with his record, I wouldn’t have loaned him bus fare but she gave him two hundred fifty grand! Says she knows his company has a big payday coming. Hope so, or she’ll kiss that quarter mil good-bye. Be a real shame, even if it won’t put much of a dent in the trust.”
‘The owner? And just how big is that trust?’
Robert now considered more of Marty’s comments, “And about me putting a contract on anybody? Man, I don’t do that shit! Yeah, I used to do a little small time sharking till I ran into the usury law, but Ms. Leonora got my only conviction expunged after we teamed up and, believe me, I ain’t gonna do nothing to foul this gig! I manage all three offices and you can’t believe the money we make, even though she does offer the lowest rates around. That Mercedes out front of the shop? That’s mine, and my wife has a newer one at home, a real nice home with a mortgage half paid. Anything happens to Ms. Leonora, and no telling where I end up. Somewhere broke, that’s for damn sure.”
“I believe you,” Marty said, “I have an interest in the Clements, too, and I had to make sure you weren’t responsible for the contract. If you were,” he took two sugar packets he secreted earlier from his pocket and displayed them briefly to Robert before putting them back,” you’d be having a heart attack right about now.”
“What’s in there? Who are you?”
“Something that won’t show up even on a careful autopsy. And me, I’m nobody, the man who isn’t even here; the man you never met. So I’ll never hear anything about this imaginary meeting, and I do hear everything. If I should hear anything, I’ll have to come back – and you really don’t want that.” Marty finished his coffee and stood up, “Now enjoy your coffee, slowly, before you leave,” and he walked out of the shop.
Robert waited as directed. He did not, however, touch his coffee.
Phase IV – Neutralizing The Complication
“Yes, I’m positive,” Marty repeated, speaking through the voice distorter, “Ms. Leonora Smithson-Clements is going to be murdered, most likely in the next day or two. I accidentally overheard someone making the arrangements with the killer in a men’s room. I had my feet up on the edge of the toilet seat – this is most embarrassing; you see, I have horrible constipation and that position helps relieve it – and they didn’t know I was in the stall.… No, they were male voices but that’s about all I could tell: I didn’t recognize either of their voices and was too scared to even look through the crack at the side of the door, afraid they’d notice me…. Look, I’m just doing my civic duty; if you don’t do anything and she gets killed, that’s on you…. No, I won’t call the police; I don’t trust them. Calls to you are supposed to be anonymous, and I’m afraid to have anybody know I snitched on a killer!… Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. OK, here’s the serial number of a one dollar bill: if there is any reward, give it to whoever has that bill.” Marty read off the letter and the numbers, asked the Crime End tip line operator to repeat them, and then hung up before she could ask any more questions. Now it was up to the police.
* * *
Fortunately, Marty was well stocked with snacks and drinks (sadly, non-alcoholic only) because it was after moon-set at nearly three a.m. when a dark-clad shadow slid through the bushes, stealthily approached the side door, turned over several rocks in the flower bed before finding the one harboring the emergency house key, and let himself into the Clements’ home. Marty stayed in his concealed vantage point until the house suddenly lit up and almost immediately several squad cars roared into the driveway with lights and sirens. He did not wait to see the handcuffed intruder marched out by the cops: after all, his night’s work was done.
* * *
Marty was as surprised as anyone when the news two days later reported that the search of the failed killer’s home had located evidence of more than two dozen kills he had made over the past several years – the idiot actually kept a log book! 'Note to self: burn diary.'
A few days later it was reported that, when confronted with his own log and the likelihood that with the information contained therein corroborating evidence would soon be forthcoming, the hitman had confessed to all his killings. According to one source, he actually seemed proud of his accomplishments; according to another source, he was just trying to secure deals to avoid the death penalty. Investigators from many jurisdictions were lining up to interrogate the man, and it’s safe to say that his past clients were trembling in their boots.
There was a lot of speculation regarding the origin of the tip that led the police to stake out the Clements’ house. So far, the anonymity promise of the tip line apparently had been honored. Concerning the multitude of identifiable victims, Marty learned there were several significant reward offers still active and he began planning how to obtain those while preserving that anonymity.
In a call to Robert, the Friendly Hands manager, to reinforce admonitions regarding secrecy, Marty learned that Nigel’s lender had agreed to swap the loan debt for an interest in the company, and that a long-awaited licensing agreement had finally been consummated which promised significant income for at least ten years, with an option to extend. So it appeared Marty would have to search for future clients elsewhere.
To avoid any later complications that might lead back to him, Marty called each of the Clements at their respective drinking places from his disposable phone and explained the importance of their respective spouses remaining healthy. Should one meet with any disaster, Marty indicated he would have to have a serious talk with the survivor. His point was made.
He also arranged to collect his final payments from the newly-solvent Nigel, using the clever method the other hitman had devised. When Nigel protested that his wife was still very much alive, Marty reminded him that his name appeared as the last entry in the hitman's log and the fact that she was still breathing was the only thing keeping Nigel from a jail cell. Nigel relented.
Fortunately, Marty had worn differing disguises when contacting his two clients (consisting mostly of separate ill-fitting wigs) and he hoped that, even should the easing of animosity he sensed between them progress to the point of intimate disclosures, they would not connect their respective hitmen.
Phase V – Handling The Unexpected
Seated in the interrogation room, Marty looked at the cop in amazement, “Me? A hitman? Are you joking?”
“Hey,” the officer replied, “I’m only telling you what we heard. My Lieutenant wants you to deny it on the record so we don’t have any loose ends.”
“The answer is no; I’ve never murdered anybody.”
“Would you be willing to take a lie detector test?”
“For real? You actually want me to take a lie detector test? About being a hired killer?”
“Look,” the cop answered, “I know it’s stupid, but during the course of an investigation – one that did involve a hitman that definitely was not you – two people told us you were also one. Even though we don’t believe it, we have to check it out, doing our due diligence. How about it? Won’t take more than half an hour. After all, you don’t have anything to hide, right?”
“Yeah, but... OK, tell you what: I’ll take the test on the condition that I only have to answer one question – I mean, besides my name and where I live and that stuff. I’ll answer the question, ‘Have you ever murdered anyone?’ and that’s it, OK?”
“Well... all right, that should satisfy Loo. What are you afraid of anyway? That we’ll learn about the high-stakes poker game you run out of your dining room?”
“No, I just don’t want anyone to know about my former career as a porn star!”
* * *
“So he passed, right?”
“Yeah, Loo. Even had him asked if he’d ever killed anyone instead of murdered – just in case he convinced himself it isn’t murder to kill a scumbag – and he still passed with flying colors.”
“Figures. I mean, did you ever meet anybody seems less like a hitter?”
“For sure. But isn’t that kind of the point? If he was, I mean.”
Reaping The Rewards
Marty sat on his favorite stool at Kelly’s waiting for his driver to bring his girl back from her shopping trip. In his pocket he had a pair of earrings made with the two smallest diamonds from Leonora’s ring. They should satisfy Shelia for a while, keep her from pestering him for a new Mercedes like his. In a year or so, maybe, but for now she’d have to be content with the Honda.
He sipped his drink then took his bankbook from the inside pocket of his Armani jacket and admired the balance one more time. The two rewards he’d received anonymously so far were impressive, and there were at least six, maybe as many as ten more he might claim, some even larger! He replaced the book and idly resumed studying his list of potential clients for his next operation, in a couple of years. This hitman gig had turned out to be a lot easier than he’s imagined. And considerably more lucrative.
The End – or not